John Butler

A mechanical engineering professor received an award from the University’s Austin Technology Incubator for his contributions toward helping future technological entrepreneurs Wednesday.

Michael Webber, an associate mechanical engineering professor and UT alumnus, is the inaugural recipient of the John Sibley Butler Distinguished Alumni Award. The award is presented only to alumni of the Austin Technology Incubator, a support program for students interested in creating their own technology start-ups.

Webber, a member of the program’s leadership staff, said he believes receiving the award could be a result of his longstanding involvement in Austin Technology Incubator, also known as ATI.

John Butler, the award’s namesake and former director of University research institute IC2 — Institute for Innovation, Creativity and Capital — which ATI is part of, said Webber’s professional past has been essential to ATI’s success.

“[Webber] grew up at Austin Technology Incubator,” Butler said. “He was an intern at ATI … [and then became] a professor at UT. It’s important that he understands how to create a company.”

Webber said ATI’s focus on fostering student mentorships with established professionals in the field is important for producing successful student entrepreneurs.

“I think that the incubator is not producing products, but instead it’s producing people, entrepreneurs,” Webber said. “Students are an important part of that recipe. It’s really important because if you look at the most impressive [company] startups, they are mostly started by students — Google, Yahoo, Facebook.”

ATI also presented the Laura J. Kilcrease Civic Entrepreneurship Award to ATI alum Manoj Saxena, a software entrepreneur who works with IBM.

The Kilcrease Award is meant to recognize those who have not only succeeded as technological entrepreneurs, but have also taken significant steps to give back to their community and mentor student entrepreneurs.

Laura Kilcrease, the award’s namesake and founding director of ATI, said the award is important to students interested in pursuing entrepreneurship.

“It means a lot [for students], because people like Manoj [Saxena] hire graduates of UT and also come back and act as mentors to students,” Kilcrease said. “[Saxena] is someone who has been active in helping our students and faculty. How many times does a student get an opportunity to be in front of a serial entrepreneur and get mentorship and advice from them?”

Kilcrease also emphasized both Webber and Saxena are influential to the success of other entrepreneurs in multiple ways.

“What they epitomize is how the University both helps to grow successful entrepreneurs in our region and, through ATI’s internship program, helps to grow future faculty, like Michael Webber,” Kilcrease said.

Sophomores Logan Brown and Bradley Roofner are the founding CEOS of HatTee, a company that produces golf hats that hold tees on the side. 

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Logan Brown and Bradley Roofner are fellow sophomores, fraternity brothers, roommates, close friends and the two founding CEOs of a student entrepreneurship company that makes accessorized hats for golfers.

Brown, a computer science sophomore, and Roofner, business honors sophomore, officially registered their company, HatTee, in February and have since been selling golf hats that can hold tees on the side. The goal of the hat is to rid the inconvenience of carrying golf tees in pockets, where they can scratch cell phones. Roofner, who golfs on a consistent basis, said he used to leave his tees behind before making HatTee.

In September, HatTee launched its website, and in the past month, the company has moved away from pushing individual sales and is now focusing on larger sales. The hats are still available for online individual sales, but Brown said the focus of HatTee was moving to retail.

It was over dinner at the UT Club in the Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium in October 2011 that the idea of HatTee started. Roofner mentioned the idea for hats with tees, and Brown was instantly interested.

“We didn’t know quite what we would do with it at that point,” Brown said. “But I thought [Roofner] was a genius, and he also had this cool idea for a hat, so I thought I better snatch him up quick.”

After dinner they shook hands and agreed to start a business together. In the following semester, Brown and Roofner went in for a meeting with John Butler, director of the Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship. Brown said that was a big moment for their business, because Butler gave them advice and inspiration.

Butler set up phone conferences for Brown and Roofner. They spoke to Carl Paul, former CEO and founder of Golfsmith and Joe Beck, agent of two-time Masters Golf champion Ben Crenshaw. Butler said they had entrepreneurship originality that would make them successful.

Roofner said the encouragement from that meeting helped push them forward.

“There is no greater feeling than when someone attaches value to our idea,” Roofner said. “When someone buys a hat and we get to have a conversation with someone and they say they like this ... it is unmatched.”

The two met in fall 2011 as freshmen when they were pledging for fraternity Beta Upsilon Chi. Since then Brown and Roofner have become close friends and moved together into a West Campus apartment this fall. They said while running a company and going to school can be difficult, it is manageable.

Brown said he takes on the strategic planning and vision for the company, and Roofner said he focuses on the financial backing of the company.

“We live together now and we sleep in the same room and do just about everything together,” Brown said. “We mesh just about as good as we possibly can get. I’m the loud and boisterous one, and [Roofner] is there to keep me in check.”

Brown said living together has its advantages while running a company.

“We can talk about things from midnight to 4 a.m. if we need to, and it does happen sometimes,” Brown said. “We have pillow talk, but it’s not about girls but the finances of the company, which is equally exciting stuff.”

Printed on Friday, November 9, 2012 as: Student CEOs on par 

Academi, the private military company formerly known as Blackwater USA that was contracted to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, has acquired a new director with close ties to UT.

Billionaire entrepreneur Red McCombs, namesake of the McCombs School of Business, is now the chairman of Academi’s board of directors. McCombs joined the company during its restructuring last December to “manage the company and enhance its governance and oversight capabilities,” according to a December press release announcing the decision.

More recently, as part of an article published in Harper’s April issue, the publication released a series of videos on their website showing alleged Blackwater contractors indiscriminately firing at Iraqi traffic, smashing into cars and running over civilians.

Beginning in 2003, the U.S. State Department contracted Blackwater to provide a wide variety of services in Iraq and Afghanistan from training and deploying special-forces soldiers to providing aerial reconnaissance.

Management and sociology professor John Butler said McCombs is likely joining the company as a good business practice, similar to when he donated $50 million to the business school in 2000, resulting in the naming of the school.

“Mr. McCombs understands the importance of defending this country, and you need someone like him to build an organization that’s so important,” Butler said. “Red McCombs has the leadership you require in such a company, and I expect that as part of his plan he will be rebranding its image as part of effective entrepreneurship.”

The company drew wide criticism in 2007 when Blackwater military contractors allegedly shot and killed 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, which resulted in the company temporarily losing its contract to operate. The company was also investigated that year by the State Department for allegedly smuggling arms into Iraq for designated terrorist organizations.
McCombs could not be reached for comment.

Finance junior Philip Kaminer said he believed that it wasn’t an issue to have McCombs associated with the company.

“Despite the fact that Blackwater has done military contracting, it’s a legitimate corporation and has to be seen as legitimate enterprise,” Kaminer said. “It would be different if he was funding mercenaries, but if its acceptable for the government to put millions of dollars behind these companies then it is perfectly fine for a businessman to support them as well.”

Thomas Palaima, a professor of classics and middle eastern studies who researches war and violence, said that while he was concerned about the activities of Blackwater, it was more important to understand where funding comes from and how it is spent.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to get private contractors involved in fighting our undeclared wars, but that’s a different question,” Palaima said. “Does Red McCombs have the right to throw his money into Blackwater, make a profit and then put his money into the University? Of course he does. At least, President Powers seems to think so.”

It is common for large sums of money to enter institutions through questionable means and institutions still accept funding, Palaima said. He added it was more important to raise discussion about institutional priorities allowing this to happen.

“If you’re really concerned about where money comes from, just look at how many of the great fortunes are attached to conflicts that later get donated to charity,” Palaima said. “Rockefeller was behind the killing of innocent minors, but nobody says we can’t have money from the Rockefeller foundation any longer. Someday people will look at Blackwater the same way.”

Palaima said the controversies surrounding Blackwater cannot change large public indifference or affect the business school’s image.

“The general public just doesn’t care very much to be informed about Blackwater and Afghanistan — the former vice president of the United States was highly involved in Blackwater,” Palaima said. “The bigger issue is the U.S. being able to conducting informal wars by using highly profitable private companies like Blackwater.”

Printed on Thursday, April 19, 2012 as: McCombs chairs private security firm

The Herb Kelleher Center for Entrepreneurship selected its 2011-2012 entrepreneur-in-residence last week.

The entrepreneur-in-residence is chosen from a group of businesspeople nominated by the faculty, said John Butler, director of the Kelleher Center. Melinda Garvey was chosen as this year’s entrepreneur-in-residence because of her extensive experience, great success in entrepreneurship and her approachability, said Jim Fredrickson, chair of the Red McCombs School of Business Department of Management.

“We were trying to identify someone who would be high energy and a good example for students,” Fredrickson said. “She’s very open and energetic, as well as unpretentious and student friendly. She’s built a small business from an idea to a flourishing business.”

Garvey has been a guest lecturer in classes on entrepreneurial management for the past five years. She launched Austin Woman Magazine nine years ago this month.

“Our goal is for her to meet with as many students as possible and to bring her vision of entrepreneurship to students,” Butler said. “Having an entrepreneur on campus allows students to see an entrepreneur who is doing good things and can talk to them about their ideas.”

As entrepreneur-in-residence, Garvey will be interacting with students on a small-ratio basis. Garvey said she wants to contribute her previous knowledge of how to run a consumer-driven small business to students.

“I have always just really enjoyed interacting with the students,” Garvey said. “What I can bring to the table is a lot of knowledge and experience, showing the students what it’s really like to start a small business and do something that you’re passionate about.”

Garvey said there will be one-on-one meetings, as well as a first-come, first-served round table discussion offered at different times throughout the week.

The purpose of the small, group setting is for students to discuss business and entrepreneurship ideas with each other and with Garvey.

“I want for students to be able to throw around ideas and get guidance,” Garvey said.

Garvey will be focusing on small business entrepreneurship during the year but also hopes to offer ideas to any students with different focuses within the business school.

“My belief is the small business will be the engine of the future,” Garvey said. “It will fuel and drive the economy — and students will hopefully grasp the idea that they can have a great life and give back to the community.”

She said she is excited to see how being entrepreneur-in-residence will change her perspectives.

“It’s really an opportunity for me to pull back a little — the students are a great fresh resource, but it’s also a chance for me to look at my business from a different perspective,” Garvey said. “It’s really going to help me do that. I think there’s going be a lot of great exchange of ideas.”

Printed September 22, 2011 as: Business lecturer named entrepreneur-in-residence